Sunday, May 1, 2011

How This is Like That (My Master Plan is Working)

One of the great joys of being a teacher is when you catch your kids using things you've taught not only independently, but in new contexts (and it's easy to catch first graders--they often come running up to tell you all about it).

Kids seeing how this is like that; what is the same, what is different. Noticing something learned in one context in another context at another time. Realizing that you can use things you already know to help you know something new. This is the stuff that I live for as a teacher. It means that it's working ("it" being my grand master plan, of course).

It takes a lot of work to teach kids to notice stuff and then think about what it is and how to use it. It takes even more work to get them to do these things independently, but that's our job. Yep, if we've done our job, they don't really need us so much anymore--at least not to remind them or help them to use the things they have learned to do.

In a couple of my reading groups, this has been our big challenge. To notice how what we do across our day can help them when they are reading on their own--that the stuff of interactive read alouds and shared reading and word study is also the stuff of readers reading on their own. That this work is like that work and that they can do it themselves, without me prompting them to.

This isn't a new phenomenon. In fact, in my years working with teachers across grades K-5, this same pattern emerged. Kids who were struggling often were not apt to notice links across classroom contexts on their own. It's hard to teach this to kids, but we can start by doing a few things--the stuff that teaches them how this is like that.

  • make the links visible by physically pointing them out--get the books they are reading independently or in reading groups and actually show them how the work is the same during your read aloud or shared reading
  • for word study, make sure that you do the same thing--get the books they are using on their own and use examples from those
  • tell them how it all fits together--not just how to do something, but when and how it looks in different contexts
  • when they are reading with you in group (or a reading conference), point out the links to word study lessons or read aloud thinking as the kids come to places in the text where they need to use these things
The next part is really hard. You have to teach them to start doing this on their own. At first, you'll teach (just come out and say it!) that they know how to _____ and that you'll be watching closely for them to do it. Go ahead and tell them you expect them to remember to try _______ all by themselves--without needing you to remind them. 

And then watch and listen very, very closely....for any chance to catch them at it. Acknowledge it specifically. That's important. "Good job" really isn't that helpful. "I saw you slide through the whole word and then go back and put it together smooth and easy, just like when we do the morning message" is.
At first, you may acknowledge this soon after the reader does it. Then you'll wait and mention it at the end. Remember, we want them to do this for themselves.

Now, imagine my joy when the kids in those reading groups started calling out during word study, "hey, that's like how I figured out shout in my book yesterday!" or when J. pointed out that something in our reading group book was just like the books we had been using as mentor texts in writing. I did a little happy dance in my head (and maybe just a little actual happy dance right there in the classroom).

My master plan is working.

1 comment:

  1. I so enjoyed the attention to the details given of your "intentional" teaching. You know what you're reaching for, and exactly how to get there, and you told us readers too! Thanks for the clear message. I hope I will be able to be this clear when working with the teachers I support.